Why New Relic
New Relic facilitates end-to-end visibility from the browser to the infrastructure running on Microsoft Azure.
- Reduced mean time to resolution by 75%—in the process freeing up developer time
- Reduced cloud infrastructure costs by AU$53,000
- Saved AU$50,000 on third-party development for a new application
- Improved on-time census completions by 300%
Every child matters. This is the motto of Catholic Schools NSW, which takes the lead in coordinating and representing Catholic education at a state and national level for New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state. Catholic schools educate one in five NSW students, and employ more than 30,000 teachers and support staff across 591 schools.
One of the organisation’s most important objectives is to ensure that NSW Catholic schools comply with evolving federal and state funding and legislative requirements. To help the schools keep up with these changes, Catholic Schools NSW doubled its IT staff so that it could rapidly create applications and functionality to support new legislative requirements. Today, that team manages nine in-house-developed applications in addition to more than 30 off-the-shelf applications.
Developing a strategy for reliability
This rapid growth came at a cost. ‘The side effect of rapid growth and development was a shortage of time and resources to focus on reliability’, says Brad Anderson, information technology manager at Catholic Schools NSW. ‘Every time a new requirement came out, a lot of individual effort went into developing a new application and releasing it quickly.’
Soon, however, reliability issues began cropping up across an increasing number of applications, and dealing with them began to take up most of the developers’ time.
‘When I came into this role, people at the schools didn’t trust the tools we were providing because of sporadic outages’, says Anderson. ‘If they aren’t engaged and don’t feel the tools are reliable, they won’t use them, and we won’t get the data we need to accurately report back to the government.’
With $3.5 billion in government funding on the line, accurate data is critical for demonstrating that funding is equitable and allotted correctly. If a school is flagged as having incorrect data, an audit could be triggered, resulting in more work for teachers and less time for them to focus on their students.
Anderson quickly realized that the first thing he needed to do in his new role was develop a strategy to improve the level of service, reliability, and engagement that his IT team could provide to the schools.
Making visibility mandatory
As Anderson began to create his strategy, it became clear that the IT team at Catholic Schools NSW didn’t have a way to understand application performance or identify the issues behind reliability problems. ‘With a small team like ours, it’s really important to have visibility into performance’, he says. ‘We already had a tool, but it wasn’t working correctly, and the cost to get it working would have been more than the value it could deliver.’
Since Anderson had used New Relic at other companies before coming to Catholic Schools, he suggested that the organisation engage in a proof of concept for the platform. ‘I was very impressed with New Relic in my other jobs, so I wanted to see how it could help us here’, he says. ‘When we saw the amount of information that was available literally out of the box with New Relic, we knew it was the answer to our visibility problem.’
Once New Relic was deployed across the in-house-developed applications in the Catholic Schools NSW environment (which runs on Microsoft Azure), the IT team immediately saw the benefits. ‘As soon as we began using New Relic, our problem resolution time dropped significantly, and we were able to apply that savings to making development and reliability improvements’, says Anderson. ‘For example, there was one case where we had the wrong type of disk for an SQL Server. Identifying the problem and resolving it might have taken a week in the past; instead, it took us 30 minutes using data from New Relic.’
Learn more about using New Relic on Microsoft Azure.
‘As soon as we began using New Relic, our problem resolution time dropped significantly, and we were able to apply that savings to making development and reliability improvements.’
Preparing for the big test
For Anderson, the timing of the New Relic deployment was critical: His team needed to mitigate the risk around an important new census application that would collect data about educational plans for students with special needs and disabilities for the federal government. It was the first year that a new, standardized method was being applied, and Catholic Schools NSW had to develop an application component to support it.
‘We absolutely had to have that application ready in time for the August census’, says Anderson. “What’s more, we had to make it easy for teachers to use; we had to provide audit trails around changes; and (most important) we had to make it reliable. Not only did the teachers need to be able to enter their data without delays or issues, but each of our 600 principals then had to review that data online before signing a legal attestation that the data was correct.’
With New Relic, the IT team proactively identified and fixed potential issues before the new census application was released into production, avoiding downtime and improving reliability. The result was a success: the IT team saw a 300% increase in the number of submissions completed on time.
Graduating to DevOps
By reducing the time spent on reactive maintenance, Catholic Schools NSW was able to free up developers for actual development work, giving them more time to deliver higher-quality applications. ‘Our mean time to resolution decreased by about 75%’, says Anderson. ‘For instance, one developer was spending 25 to 30 hours a week fixing problems, and now that number is down to roughly 2 to 4 hours a week. The savings in wages in reactive maintenance alone is greater than the cost of New Relic.’
In addition, the IT team now delivers code faster than ever. ‘New Relic has been an important part of making the transition to DevOps’, says Anderson. ‘Now we can get code written, tested, and out in a matter of days instead of a few weeks.’ New Relic also helps the team drive more consistency across applications and infrastructure.
‘New Relic has been an important part of making the transition to DevOps. Now we can get code written, tested, and out in a matter of days instead of a few weeks.’
With its newfound time and resources for development as well as its DevOps automation and pipeline approach, the IT team at Catholic Schools NSW can take on additional projects like a new emergency management platform.
‘This project will provide notifications for fire, flood, and security incidents, so it’s a very important obligation,’ says Anderson. “Yet 12 months ago, we wouldn’t have been able to take on a system like this because without New Relic, we didn’t have the confidence in internal resources and capacity to do so.’ Creating the application in house will save the organisation as much as AU$50,000.
Eliminating educated guesses on cloud resource
New Relic is helping Catholic Schools NSW save money in other ways as well. When the organisation moved its virtualized workloads from on-premise to the cloud, there was little time or data available to understand how to size resources appropriately in Microsoft Azure.
‘New Relic Infrastructure gives us the visibility and data we need to right-size the virtual infrastructure and reduce spend in Azure’, says Anderson. The first example of savings was the ability to shut off some virtual machines and downsize others to save around 10% of cloud spend every month, which adds up to AU$30,000 per year.
The second example was a new workload for data warehousing and analytics. The original capacity plan estimated that AU$35,000 per year would be needed for cloud infrastructure to run the workload, but with New Relic, the team more accurately assessed the requirements and right-sized the environment, saving the organisation AU$23,000 per year compared to the planned expense.
Winning over schools and teachers
The success the IT team is seeing has manifested itself in cultural ways as well. With more reliable software releases and faster time to resolution for any issues that do come up, the IT team can be more responsive and has more time to engage with end users.
‘Responsiveness combined with reliability has created a better working relationship with the schools and the teachers’, says Anderson. ‘The dynamic of our conversation has changed. From the board on down, everyone has more confidence than ever in IT.’
‘There was one case where we had the wrong type of disk for an SQL Server. Identifying the problem and resolving it might have taken a week in the past; instead, it took us 30 minutes using data from New Relic.’